Nazi Concepts of Mass Movement
A fourth congress, planned for Vienna, never materialized because of the Nazi takeover. Instead, Goebbels authorized the organization of German Dance Festivals, held in Berlin in 1934 and 1935. These were autumnal rather than summertime affairs and completely devoid of scholarship, lectures, or even panel discussions. Performances alone would purportedly reveal a uniquely German dance aesthetic. But these gatherings were much smaller in scale than the Munich Dance Congress. Georgi, Wigman, Kreutzberg, Maudrik, Kratina, Laban, Palucca, and Günther contributed pieces to the 1934 festival, held in conjunction with a large museum exhibit on dance in art, but the following year only Wigman, Palucca, Kreutzberg,
Maudrik, and Günther returned. Rogge, however, presented Amazonen; Helga Svedlund, ballet mistress at the Hamburg State Opera, gave her production of Ravel's Pavanne; and Lotte Wernicke, a Berlin lay movement choir director, premiered Die Geburt der Arbeit (music: Kessler), a "choric dance play" in six scenes that dramatized the "awakening of humanity and its path to various modes of labor which are the foundation of human community" (MS 159). The Nazi press had criticized some of the 1934 dances, including those by Wigman and Palucca, for being insufficiently or unimpressively German; the 1935 Rogge and Wernicke works were lauded as appropriate examples of "heroic" German bodily movement, but Goebbels apparently disliked Amazonen because it was too Greek in its iconography.
The provinciality of the festival strategy was obvious even to Goebbels; he therefore endorsed the idea of an International Dance Competition, sponsored by the government itself, to coincide with the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The newly formed Reichsbund für Gemeinschaftstanz invited participants from Italy, Poland, Holland, Rumania, Greece, Bulgaria, Austria, India, Yugoslavia, Canada, Switzerland, and Belgium. (Martha Graham declined an invitation to attend because she disapproved of Nazi persecution of Jewish dancers.) The competition emphasized dances of a folk-national character, although the German entries (from Palucca, Wigman, Maudrik, Günther, Kreutzberg, and Kölling) displayed almost no connection to folk-dance forms. Laban promoted the lay movement choir concept as a modern form of folk dance, and he planned a large, four-part "choric consecration play," Vom Tauwind und der neuen Freude , involving 1,000 lay persons from thirty German cities, for performance in the new Dietrich-Eckart Amphitheatre. The piece derived its inspiration from Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra . Harry Pierenkamper directed the first part, "Kampf," employing choirs from Mannheim, Heidelberg, and Frankfurt; Albrecht Knust and Lotte Müller supervised the second part, "Freude," with choirs from nine cities. Heide Woog directed choirs from the Ruhr area in the "Weihe" section, and Lotte Wernicke led the entire ensemble in "Besinnung." As Marie Luise Lieschke, Laban's chief assistant for lay movement education, explained: "We have grown out of the I-and-You era into the We era—but not so that we are merely 'masses': we are a people's community [Volksgemeinschaft], led by the Führer, and our lay dance is education in this sense: to lead and become led" (Wir tanzen , 7). But when Goebbels, along with 20,000 others, attended a dress rehearsal of the production, he (apparently alone) expressed deep disappointment, regarding the piece as too "intellectual" and a dilettantish masquerade of Nazism that really had "nothing at all to do with us" (MS 166). He thus compelled the withdrawal from the competition of both the consecration play and Rogge's Amazonen . From this point on, Laban's relations with the regime became progressively colder, with Rudolf Bode rising to favor as the leader of movement education.
At the Olympic Games themselves, Carl Diem, coordinator of the entire event, had arranged for the performance of a gigantic festival spectacular, Olympischer Jugend , following the 1 August 1936 opening ceremony, watched by 100,000 persons. Directed by Hanns Niedecken-Gebhard, it was a nocturnal event in five scenes. It began with the tolling of the huge Olympic bell and the appearance of 2,500 girls, age ten to twelve, in white dresses, followed by 900 young men in different-colored gymnastic uniforms, then 2,300 teenage girls. Under powerful spotlights these huge groups performed an immense round dance choreographed by Dorothee Günther and Maja Lex to music by Carl Orff. Günther and Lex juxtaposed large, marching phalanxes of dancers against flowering, swirling circles of girls. The second scene, "Anmut der Mädchen," choreographed by Palucca, employed the teenage girls in a vast waltz, followed by a solo waltz, which Palucca danced herself. The music was again Orff's, after Palucca decided she could not dance to the excessively modern piece offered by Werner Egk. In the third scene, male athletes marched with flags from many nations, circling around bonfires and singing hymns composed by Egk. The fourth scene drifted into a tragic mood, commemorating heroic struggle and sacrificial death for one's country. For this scene, Kreutzberg designed a weapon dance for sixty male dancers carrying shields, all of whom "died" in the end; Wigman followed with a lamentational dance for dead heroes involving about sixty female dancers. Again, Egk composed the music for these pieces. The final scene, "Olympischer Hymnus," entailed the singing by everyone in the stadium of the "Ode to Joy" section of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony while the great spotlights, introduced by Albert Speer, panned across the field and soared upward in a stunning colonnade to the heavens.
None of this stirring spectacle appeared in Leni Riefenstahl's film masterpiece, Olympische Spiele (1938), because she and her cameramen did not think they had enough light to shoot the scenes (Downing 83). Instead, she inserted outdoor shots of nude female dancers, undulating "eurhythmically," as she put it, under a cloud-dappled sky. These images of bacchanalian dancing bodies served as the transition from the mythic, male world of classical athletic competition to the lighting of the Olympic flame (Diem's idea) in the twentieth-century stadium. This very mysterious effect dramatizes the unity of the athletic body to nature much more powerfully than the stadium spectacle. But Olympische Jugend dramatized far more vividly the integration of the athletic body into a vast image of community in which all bodies were minute compared to the great movement of the whole.
The assumption persists that, because a fascist government endorsed and promoted Olympische Jugend , mass movement and dancing are inherently expressions of totalitarian ideology (e.g., Manning, 195–201). However, the piece contained no Nazi iconography and glorified youth and Olympian
aspiration as the foundation of an international sense of community. Olympische Jugend treated athletic competition as a political ideology unto itself, to which all other ideologies remained subordinate, if not altogether eclipsed. Still, the relation between mass movement and totalitarianism demands clarification, for the Nazis obviously adopted lay movement choir techniques in the production of numerous propaganda spectacles, especially with the curious genre known as the Thingspiel , which flourished between 1933 and 1937. The Thingspiel derived its name from the Thing , or outdoor judgment space, designated by pagan-Teutonic tribes to decide communal problems. However, the Thingspiel was an expressionistic, multimedia genre designed for open-air performance employing speech choirs, movement choirs, singing choirs, narrators, and elaborate scenographic effects involving banners, marches, loudspeakers, spotlights, and projections. Although the Nazi Party sponsored nearly all performances of Thingspiele , the productions functioned at the civic-amateur level, often entailing thousands of performers supervised by SA and SS officials. The Thingspiel , "which frequently assumed the character of an oratorio," was apparently a genuinely popular genre: the Nazis built amphitheatres to perform the works in 62 cities but could not accommodate the demand for nearly 500 (Eichberg 139).
The texts for Thingspiele came from authors close to expressionism, including Richard Euringer, Eberhard Wolfgang Möller, Kurt Heynicke, Max Halbe, Heinrich Zerkaulen, Heinrich Lersch, Gustav Goes, Heinrich Harrer, Max Ziese. In the Thingspiel , the protagonist was always "the people" (embodied by choirs), who struggled, with simple, heroic pathos, against the evil inflicted by capitalism, bolshevism, Judaism, industrialization, unemployment, hunger, the "backstabbing" diplomats who contrived the Versailles Treaty, decadent intellectualism, gangsters, racial impurity, and the foolish, misguided administrators of democracy in the Weimar Republic. The salvation of the people depended on the emergence of the Führer, representatives of the SA or SS, or potent symbols of Germanic or Aryan heritage. Menz (340) contends that the Thingspiel represented the "revolutionary" phase of the Third Reich, which emphasized the socialism in National Socialism (although a faction around Alfred Rosenberg and opposed by Goebbels stressed reactionary glorification of archaic Teutonic mythology). The revolutionary phase came to an end with the production of Olympische Jugend . From that point on the party ceased to sponsor Thingspiele and drastically curtailed its authorization of independent productions, although Hans Baumann's Passauer Niebelungenspiel appeared as late as 1939. The reason for the policy change remains obscure, but apparently Goebbels felt the party could not maintain sufficient control over the utopian dreams ignited by these productions and over the large measure
of improvisation that prevailed within them (Eichberg 147). Such performances did not adequately prepare the people for the impending reality of war.
The Thingspiel was hardly a uniquely Nazi innovation. Menz (332–333) identifies numerous models for the genre, including Greek tragedy, medieval mystery plays, and the grandiose spectacles of Max Reinhardt; Eberhard Wolfgang Möller claimed that Brecht's Lehrstücke provided superb models for Thingspiele texts. But Eichberg points to more immediate precedents in the mass theatre of the Social Democrats in the Weimar Republic. Festival or "sacramental" plays, often on a huge scale, appeared at mass events sponsored by labor and socialist organizations in the early 1920s, with Leipzig (1920–1924) being an especially fertile site of innovation (Pfützner). Bertha Lask's Die Toten rufen (1923) and Gustav von Wangenheim's Chor der Arbeit (1923) and 7000 (1924) were notable examples before the First International Workers' Olympics in Frankfurt in 1925, which saw a vast production of Alfred Auerbach's Kampf um die Erde . A workers' festival of gymnastics in Nuremburg (1929) featured Mach dich frei! involving 60,000 persons in the spectacular drama of a great proletarian storm troop that "takes up the fight to free all intellectually, economically, socially, and politically enslaved people from their bondage." Yet another festival play, created by Robert Ehrenzweig for the Second Workers' Olympics in Vienna (1931), used 5,000 performers and dramatized the "revolutionary awakening" of the proletariat against "the oppressive ages of industrial servitude." In the final "storm of enthusiasm uniting the masses, the golden idol [of capitalism] sinks away, and from the platform come the lanterns of freedom—at first single torches in a chorus of joy, then bands and streams of light, which surround the high circle and expand and swell through the marathon gate to the accompaniment of the Internationale sung by 65,000. The torch procession, through the Prater to city hall, is joined by the audience" (Eichberg 143–144).
All these productions plainly resembled the Thingspiel in their open-air deployment of marches, flags, loudspeakers, speech and movement choirs, narrators, generic identities, expressionistic language of pathos and euphoria, torches, gigantic emblems, protagonization of "the people," audience participation, and narratives focused on the struggle of the masses to overcome abiding indignities (Rühle 35–40; Bartetzko, 133–143). On the formal level, then, the Thingspiel was scarcely revolutionary. But even after it waned, around 1936, the Nazis continued to stage vast mass spectacles similar to the awesome 1934 party rally documented so ominously in Riefenstahl's famous film Triumph of the Will (1935). With the success of Olympische Jugend , Niedecken-Gebhard, still busy staging Handel operas, became probably the most significant director of mass spectacles in the Reich, supervising the gigantic nocturnal Olympic Stadium celebration (1937) of Berlin's
seven hundredth anniversary. This event involved 5,000 schoolchildren and 7,000 members of the army, Gestapo, Labor Service, SS, Nazi women's auxiliary groups, and Hitler Youth, along with 360 dancers performing folk dances, death dances, waltzes, sword dances, harvest dances, and soldier dances choreographed by such people as Berthe Trümpy, Marianne Vogelsang, and Reich folk dance expert Erich Janietz (Figure 66). In 1938, Niedecken-Gebhard produced Volk in Leibesübungen for an athletic festival in Breslau, this time calling on Dorothee Günther, Marta Welsen, Berthe Trümpy, and Günther Hess to handle choreographic assignments; the piece concluded with a triumphant entry march of flag-bearing army troops under an immense dome of light. Glückliches Volk (1938), presented at the Berlin stadium, showed an idealized, Biedermeier world of graceful, waltzing women (300 of them) protected by an ever-vigilant, heroically disciplined military. Triumph des Lebens (1939), the last of the mass spectacles, was staged in a Munich stadium and again paired "manly strength" and "womanly grace" in gigantic folk dances and marches involving 1,000 girls and several thousand uniformed men. The pieces were choreographed by Günther, Peters-Pawlinin, Trümpy, and instructors from the Elisabeth Duncan school; Maja Lex and Harald Kreutzberg performed solos, and, as usual, the thing concluded with a monumental hymnic surge of humanity toward the swastika (MS 146–149).
Goebbels favored these productions because they adopted the model of the 1934 party rally in Nuremburg, which in itself was an enormous elaboration of the Nazi performance aesthetic before 1933. This aesthetic did not tell stories of struggle and revolution but stressed the reality of the moment . The mass spectacle did not merely imagine utopia but embodied it through manifestations of power and perfection embedded in, rather than signified by, the act of performance: the mystic figure of the leader, gigantic emblems (eagle and swastika), torches, bonfires, spotlights, flags and drums, loudspeakers, dramatic uniforms, the continuous movement of countless bodies across a vast space, and sudden moments of reverential stillness. Individual bodily movements were simple (march-step, salute), synchronized, and unisonal yet nevertheless capable of creating complex designs, such as an enormous, swirling swastika produced by streams of torch-bearing columns. But on a formal level, mass movement on this scale did not differ significantly from the lay movement choirs of Laban and Gleisner. The appeal of mass movement lay in its power to turn simple action into a large-scale, transformative end in itself, a destiny rather than a referent of an imaginary existence. Laban's improvisations with movement choirs shared this reverence for action with the militarized, machine-precise synchronizations of the Nazi mass performance aesthetic, for action in this sense strengthened and ultimately expanded the identity of any group. The totalitarian identity of mass movement therefore does
not reside inherently in the formal qualities of such movement in itself but in the content of the movement, in those symbols and emblems imposed upon the movement that identify action with a "total" vision of community; the symbol, not the movement, subsumes all difference. The same mass movement devices can make a swastika or a star; totalitarianism is not inherent in either. However, the swastika rather than the star became a totalitarian symbol because it urged people to act on behalf of a community that invariably valued sameness over difference.